Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast #3

The third in our series of podcasts with Rachel Van Meers. This week, Rachel talks about her grandmother, going to church in Belgium, and a scary painting in her grandmother's house.

If you'd like your questions answered in an upcoming podcast, send us an e-mail to lostinthefogbook (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, April 17, 2008

"I tried so much as I could to do right."

By Rachel Van Meers

The real story about my father I don’t know. My mother never talked about it. I heard it from my grandmother. My mother might’ve gone dancing, she might’ve been home when she met him, but as soon as she was pregnant, he left her. Now that’s normal, I think. Everybody has kids, and they don’t care. But in my time it was different. Then it was a disaster. At that time, most of the people in Belgium were all married, married, married. There might be others like me, but not that I knew. My aunts and uncles were all married and had kids later. My mother was the only one who didn’t. That was what was so bad about it, you know, and certainly in a Catholic family that was not supposed to happen. But it happened.

As a baby, I was baptized, I did my first confirmation when I was seven or something, in the class at school. But my grandparents were always there, so I felt protected. When I was growing up, my mother worked, worked, worked. Well, she worked to support me. She did everything for me; suffered for me, too, and she was bitter about it. I don’t know what she went through, I was not there, but as soon as I was born, she quit going to church. She always told me, “You are the nail in my coffin. My life is miserable because of you.” And at the time I never knew why she said that. But I knew I was not welcome. That’s for sure.

My grandmother was a real strict Catholic. To her, my mother was lost, she let her know it all the time, and then my mother put it on me. It went around like a circle, you know. My mother joined different things in politics, anything she could do to offend my grandmother she did. In the meantime, my grandmother tried to bring me up right, and she did. So I saw two views. I didn’t see it that I was ever going to heaven. At first I didn’t understand what I was, but I felt like a mistake, you know what I mean? Like I was not meant to be.

Wherever I went people asked, “Who’s your mom? And who’s your dad?” and I told them. Well, right away their reaction changed. I didn’t see that as a child; I didn’t know that was wrong. Even other kids told me not to play with them, and I thought, “Why?” Then I thought maybe I was not dressed right, or I didn’t look good, I was ugly, you know, all these things in my mind. It was only when I did my last confirmation that I finally understood. Then I was old enough to realize when the priest told me, “Your mother is not married, and you are a bastard.” Then I got the picture, and from then on I felt like an anti-Christ my whole life. I tried so much as I could to do right, you know. And I cried a lot. Then I was thinking and crying about it, and I thought, “I shouldn’t be here so my mother is happier.” But some voice in my mind said, “You’re going to live through it, and you’re going to be okay.” And I did. I made it through.

One funny thing about it is, later in Holland when I was married, and my husband Lud and I were thinking about immigrating to another country, he sent in his papers to Australia. Lud was Dutch Indonesian, and they sent back a letter saying he was considered a bastard because he didn’t have enough Caucasian blood. Then, in the early 1960s, the White Australia policy was still in, and it was a whole different ball game than from me. Even though he had a beautiful mother and father, he was considered a bastard because his mom’s father was Dutch and his other grandfather was German, but the two women they married were Indonesian. For him he experienced prejudice because of his skin color, and for me because I was born out of wedlock; he couldn’t change the color of his skin, and I couldn’t change what I was born into. And that’s the truth.

Now, because I’m much older and much smarter, I see it as a lesson for me to go through that. I had to learn from it. It was not an easy lesson that you say, “Well, today I’m happy.” You just lived from day to day to day. But now I can see it was not me. It was the people. I don’t know why, but years later it was like a light went on in my mind. Then I could see the whole thing; I could forgive my stepfather, I could forgive my mother, I could go on in my life.

Before I had been so judgmental. I would judge people, “Oh, this and this and this.” When I learned to forgive the people who judged me my whole life, that was over for me. Now I don’t judge, because you never know what is in that person; what made him like that, or brought him up like that, or made him talk like that. Because there is always something that did that to him. Now I‘m so happy, and so much different you wouldn’t believe it. I feel like it is sunshine inside to me and clear. I laugh, and the misery is to me no more painful like it was before. When you are talking about it, it’s always going to come back to you; you never forget what happened, you know. That’s not the point. The point is, you are not in pain no more like it was before.

I believe every person that the Lord put on this earth has a duty to do. You can think like I did: “What is the use of being born when you go to hell, and there is no God for me no more?” You might not see it now, but you are learning something like I did. Every person is here for a reason.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast #2

The second in a new series of podcasts with Rachel Van Meers. This week, Rachel talks about the languages of Belgium and how her mother's refusal to allow her to learn French affected her life growing up during the 1930s.

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As always, you can send in your questions to lostinthefogbook (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Lost in the Fog Podcast

As promised, we launch the first of a new series of podcasts with Rachel Van Meers. In this inaugural episode, Rachel explains why she picked the title, "Lost in the Fog," what it means to her, and the weather in Belgium.

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If you want to talk to us, or you would like Rachel to answer your questions in an upcoming podcast, we'd love to hear from you. Our e-mail address is:

lostinthefogbook (at) gmail (dot) com

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

“I rule a nation, not a road!” –Albert I, WWI

What happened to Belgium in World War II?

By Daniel Chase

In 1914, the King of Belgium, Albert I, with only six ill-equipped divisions making up the entire Belgian army, heroically held off superior German troops for thirteen days, buying time for Britain and France to gather their forces behind the lines. By the end of World War I, Belgium, crippled after a difficult four years of German occupation, was heralded as one of the bravest nations to face off against the Central Powers.

Two decades later, Belgium was invaded by Germany again. This time, after three weeks of hard fighting, the new King, Leopold III, surrendered, and the Nazis invaded, using the country both as “a road” and a back door through the Maginot Line. During the next four years, while the War raged hard between the Axis and the Allies, Belgium was occupied. It is estimated that during those four years, 75,000 Belgian civilians were killed.

Unlike the First World War, the story of Belgium during the Second World War is not one of great armies, heroic leaders, strength, or strategy. Rather, Belgium in WWII was a nation abandoned. Left demoralized, their King surrounded by controversy, the story of Belgium during the occupation is a story of the little people; the common working families. Politically, Belgium, already divided into two languages and two classes, sided differently. One side strongly favored the Nazis, the other strongly opposed them. However, the people were not militarily inclined, and homes were without weapons. The story of those four years is a story of distrust, conflict, and survival; of ordinary people trying to make it one more day.

When I first met Rachel Van Meers, it didn’t take me long to learn that this was a unique story, about the undistinguished Belgians who survived and were killed during these mostly unrecorded few years, from one Belgian who had to live through the occupation and witnessed it. Rachel herself was of the lowest class in Belgium. From the Flemish side, families whose pride was in their work, she was looked upon as a lowly girl born out of wedlock, with one scraggly dress, and only ten years old when the invasion occurred. Too young to know about politics, her education cut short, and despite an antagonistic mother and stepfather, she was a completely ordinary little girl, who, like millions of other Belgians, woke up one morning to find herself in extraordinary circumstances. For us a more humble storyteller would be difficult to find. And humble is the story of Belgium in WWII.

I think it’s a fascinating story, and to me it’s somewhat baffling why more books haven’t been written about this sub-facet of 20th Century European history. But, anyway, I feel happy that I had a role in bringing a part of this story to you.